Authors’ Expectations Eclipsed By Stephenie Meyer


Alison Morris - August 13, 2007

I propose a moment of silent sympathy for the writers of the world, in the face of what’s been a rather humbling, reality-bending month in the world of children’s book sales. First, J.K. Rowling witnesses (by proxy) the sale of more than 72 million copies of HP7 within the first 24 hours of its release. Last week Scholastic announced that their initial print run of 12 million copies doesn’t look like it’s quite going to cut the mustard, so they’re headed back to press to print another two million. Ah, yes, business as usual. Just going to print another TWO MILLION books to satisfy American readers.

My sense is that most writers can shrug this off with little more than a sigh and a shake of the head. I mean, c’mon. It’s Harry Potter. It’s the most remarkable phenomenon in publishing history, Rowling has done something no one can fully comprehend (though everyone desperately wants to, so they can then replicate it), and c’est la vie. It’s hard to be jealous of something so… well, freakish.

But then another couple of weeks pass and the children’s market heats up again. This time it’s Stephenie Meyer who’s raking in the cash with the release of her third young adult novel in the Twilight Saga, Eclipse. Its initial print run? One million copies. Ouch. And ouch again at Wellesley Booksmith. Within three days our store had sold through my sizeable initial order of the book, as had all of our distributors — Bryant Altman, Bookazine, Bookstream, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. (At least I’m not the only buyer who underestimated…)

I don’t begrudge Stephenie Meyer her success in the least. She, like J.K. Rowling, has been perversely fortunate enough to tap into something that readers (oh, say, a million of them) have apparently been hungering for. I do, though, have to sigh along with writers everywhere over the comparison of Meyer’s initial print run with those of most authors seeing the publication of their third or fourth or even their 25th novel. With the average advance for a first-time children’s book author hovering around $7,500 and the print run for their first book likely to be 5,000 copies (my source for these figures: Michael Cart), it’s easy to see why most writers find it impossible to make a living writing children’s and YA books, let alone make a fortune.

And so I lift my cap to the non-Rowlings and non-Meyers of the world. Here’s to you and your meager advances, your moderate print runs, your ability to walk the streets unmobbed by screaming teenagers, your dedication to a low-paying (but oh so valuable) cause.

15 thoughts on “Authors’ Expectations Eclipsed By Stephenie Meyer

  1. amy@wozabooks.com

    Alison: Thanks from the bottom of my heart for this blog entry. I’m one of those little writers you lift your cap to, with a terrific children’s/YA book that has sold 1,000 copies since its release in January (everyone who has read it loves it). I still have my day job as a grant writer and I am still writing fiction in my meager spare time (I have one more child of my three living at home too). My readers want a sequel but I tell them I can’t provide one very quickly since I have limited time to write. I have to make a living. It’s hard out there for a writer of juvie fiction. But I love JK and am grateful to Meyer and Rick Riordan and others who have slogged forward and gotten so lucky and created magic and continued to imagine engaging stories that get children excited about reading. Communicating with youngsters through the imaginative renderings of fiction is one of the most important and worthy endeavors I can imagine in this life. Amy (visit me at wozabooks.com)

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  2. A. Noni Mouse

    Two words, Alison: Stephen King. In the 1980s, his astounding print runs were fed by the exact readership now feeing books published by “Children’s” publishers and categorized as “YA” – The market was always there. The categories have simply shifted, thanks in part to Scholastic hiring an expert in trade sales and marketing to put that first Harry Potter our right. And Meyer’s publisher is also very smart and savvy about marketing and publicity. My hats off to both publishers for making two authors very rich. It’s good for us all – makes more publishers not only want reach for the stars in numbers but actually try to.

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  3. Paula

    Allison, thanks for that. So many of us children’s writers wish that Rowling and Meyer’s success was the norm. But we know better. Only the love for the young reader can keep a children’s writer sated. Without the passion for them, most of us would have long gone headed for more prosperous hills.

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  4. ShelfTalker

    A. Noni Mouse, Thanks for making a point that I didn’t make clear in my own post — that successes like these are ultimately good for everyone in the business. Hopefully your point will be added consolation to those folks who look at the sales figures of those like Rowling and Meyer and wonder, “Why not me?”

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  5. LAUREN BARATZ-LOGSTED

    I’m just happy to be published and that I make a modest living off it. Really, if I spend my career – the career I’ve devoted my life to – resenting others’ greater success, what’s the point?

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  6. JORDAN MACLAY

    Thanks for giving the perspective of most published writers! But things can be ever worse for a writer!! Unpublished!! Once even the great JKR was unpublished, and struggling to get an editor to read her work. I have heard that it is by the grace of some editor’s 13 year old daugher, who gave an enthusiactic thumbs up, that JKR got her first break after a hundred rejections. So, I also salute those (including myself!) who write and have yet to be published.

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  7. Ashley51

    Dare I point out that much of the success of the two authors that are the subject of this piece (Rowling and Meyer) is due to the fact that have attracted adult readership. I’m not sure an author whose audience is solely children could do that well. You have to have a crossover hit.

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  8. Melanie

    Really, it’s a nice thought all in all, but just let it go. This sounds so sour grapes! I mean be happy for these women for such amazing accomplishments and the ability to tap into a part of modern culture. For the rest, be happy that at the very least you can do what you love and are still doing it. Life is about the joy, the pain, and the challenges. In the end if you are so focused on the price tag, nothing has any meaning.

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  9. Cecilia

    *sigh* We all wish the women’s success was the norm, but is it really that unattainable for any of us? I’d like to think that lightning can strike in the same place twice, thrice or maybe even four times… or more. Why not? The field is ripe thanks to these women…

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  10. Alexcate

    I agree with Melanie. It’s actually shocking that the author of this blog can actually waste the time to complain about other writer’s success. It’s not these particular author’s faults that the line between the have and the have nots is so huge. Why does culture always want to rip people down when they have success? Everyone loved JK when she told her stories about her unpublished-suffering, but now others seem to have a problem with her because she has gone beyond their own expectations, too successful (whatever that means). Perhaps that is the problem, too many people trying to cap success, when success shouldn’t be capped. Sorry for the rant but this article was annoying.

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  11. ShelfTalker

    Alexcate (and others), To quote directly from my post, “I don’t begrudge Stephenie Meyer her success in the least.” The point of this post was not to say that I think there’s anything BAD about authors finding success in the world of publishing or to suggest that there be any sort of “cap” on their success. On the contrary, I think it’s to all our benefit that authors and illustrators achieve high levels of fame and fortune for what they do. I would love to see MORE successes of this nature! The point of my post was to acknowledge the fact that many, many talented people working in this business work extremely hard for what is, honestly, very little pay. Many of them will never see returns that are large enough to allow them quit their day jobs or at least live as comfortably as they’d like. I just wanted to tip my hat to them for continuing to do the great work that they do. That’s all. I tip my hat to Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling too.

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  12. Lily Rush

    I don’t think JK Rowling’s success is due to an adult readership. While there are many adults who read her books, and the number has grown with the maturity of her books, her primary readership is and always has been children and teenagers. That editor’s daughter saw something in that book that the adult publishers could not see, and what many adults still cannot fully appreciate, while children see it–and love it–immediately.

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  13. Stephanie

    Hey !! I have heard about some sort of contest asking to write you ideas for a new chapter…I just wanted to know if it’s true and when is the deadline ! This msg was regarding Stephenie Meyer! Thank You!

    Reply

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